So here it is: the real end to Desolation. I hope you enjoy it.
Massive thanks to Isis for betaing this and for massive encouragement. glomps
And, without further fuss, here we go…
Far below, the great ocean lapped at the feet of the mountains. Fishing boats rode the waves of a fair summer's day, and the eagle ruffled his feathers in distaste at the gulls which screamed and wailed about them, hoping to steal a portion of the catch. He was mighty in name and deed, and it was quite beneath him to claim kinship with carrion-thieves such as they.
His looping arc carried his far gaze away from the deep blue-black of the Sundering Seas, back towards the lands which lay wide and green beneath him. Far off, the high peak of Oiolossë gleamed in the sunlight, and he could hear his master's laughter borne on the winds. A great protecting wall of stone broke through the soft earth like a young stag's first horns through the velvet. Sheer and forbidding, the Pelóri climbed to the sky in sheet after sheet of fractured rock, bare save for lichens and the lingering snows, gilded now by Anor's rays. Age-old and impregnable, the heights of the Mountains of Defence stared out at the Sundering Seas in constant challenge to the Darkness.
But here, where the coast curved away, where the Bay of Eldamar bit deeply into the land, and the lights of Tol Eressëa shone on the waters, here, for one brief moment of stone and earth, the ancient defences faltered in their line, fading back into the earth from whence they had been born. Here, at the Calacirya through which in ancient days the Light of the Trees had fallen as a golden flood to light the sea.
The brisk, clear sea breeze caught at his primaries, setting his senses reeling with the sheer joy of flight, and he soared, letting the rising currents carry him, coasting on the chill, salty breeze, with the land rising and falling beneath him. He stretched out his great wings to cup the airs, and his keen eyes glimpsed a city hurrying towards him in the distance, a fair jewel of gold and diamond set atop its own hill: Tirion, the prize of the Noldor, greatest of all their works, save for the Silmarils that were lost. Bright it shone, the marble colonnades of Finarfin's Halls gleaming in the summer sunlight, roofs pale and dark, gardens gloriously green. Metal chasing gleamed on harnesses; gilt broidery on stately robes. Bolts of cloth in a thousand hues shimmered in the marketplace, and Elven voices filled the air with song.
His beak gaped in a raptor's grin, as he regarded the tiny scurrying figures with amused and superior toleration: they were not his business this day; he would leave them to their earth-bound lives.
A road ran West out of Tirion, down from the slopes of Túna where Galathilion bloomed. Grey and brown, it coiled this way and that through the deep cleft in the mountains, fading off into the distance towards the inlands of Valinor and the mansions of the Valar that lay therein. Soft plumes of dust marked travellers going this way and that, mayhap North, to Valimar and Taniquetil, or South, to the mansions of Aulë and the Gardens of Lórien, to the dwellings of Estë on an isle amidst the waters of the Lake of Lórellin. High meadows looked down upon the road's broad expanse, and heavy, golden grass sighed gently in the wind. Amidst its roots, small, furred things scuttled hither and thither, eyes and ears alert for danger.
But he had hunted things far more terrible than they, and his eyes were keen.
He dived from the heavens like the wrath of the Valar, claws extended, wings folded tight against his body. The rabbit fled, but too late. It fell limp in his claws, its neck neatly broken. It was scarcely more than a mouthful for a beast his size, yet tasty.
But, as he had dived, he had seen a figure moving slowly along the road, caped in black for all the warmth of the day, tall and slender, weary and dust-shod. The eagle did not need to see his face to know who or what he was, and his beak gaped further in a voracious grin as he tore into the rabbit's flesh. It was, indeed, a good day to be alive.
Pungent dust rose in dry puffs beneath the hooves of the recalcitrant cattle. The hedges towered tall above them, casting the winding road into deep, green shade. Early berries pricked the bushes; a heifer lowed in plaintive sorrow, and switched her tail at a tendril of hawthorn which trammelled her hooves. The air was thick with the warmth of shuffling beasts, clouded with the fine miasma of hot earth. In the distance, the city shone, golden and marble-pale, its topmost towers glimmering through the rift in the mountains. The light was failing, but slowly, attenuating to a soft, autumn haze, gilding the roofs and sills of Tirion. Far in the distance, the gulls called, shrieking on the wings of the wind. Further still was the call of the sea, salt-blue-sweet, the call of the depths and the endless waves, far beyond the gilded palaces.
The drover turned his head into the wind and sighed. Once, he had known the winds of the sea, the sweet call of the waves, had felt the swell and fall of the ocean beneath his feet. Once, too, he had seen the soft, swelling shoreline of that Middle-earth which now was lost to Elven-kind, and revelled in the gold-green beauty of its shores. Once, long ago, he had followed his king, even unto death, and beyond. Once, he had seen the cities rising like unto the splendour of the mountains.
He sighed again, and sighted between the ears of the oxen: maybe an hour to the city which stood yet twixt the mountain and the sea, and more again until Anor fell beneath the western sky. He smiled ruefully at the Elf pacing calmly beside his cart, and rubbed the wheat chaff from the fine bridge of his nose.
There, he thought, was a strange one. For the Elf wore a cloak of silken black even in the heat of the day, the deep hood casting his face into shade beneath which only eyes of an impenetrable silver were visible, fathomless as the deepest ocean. He gazed upon them but for an instant, and he would have sworn that he could hear the rushing of the waves as he did so, as if the Great Sea was once more before him.
He turned his head away. He did not wish to see the pristine secrets those eyes hid. He did not wish to gaze upon a soul so leavened with mithril light as this.
The Elf smiled at some secret pleasure, a smile wild and distant as the winds. Long, slender hands twitched in amusement beneath the hem of his travelling cloak, a flash of starlight against the darkness.
A fist of joy clutched at the drover's heart; he could not breathe; he could not think. A far land, dust beneath a weary sun he glimpsed, its strange beauty flashing before his eyes. A wearied people, the Fí rimar, toiling in dust-strewn clothes, their faces glad and sorrowful both. The gleam of moon, and stars, and sun. A single candle, burning brightly in the citadel of kings. A man, young in years by countenance and bearing, pacing rough-hewn battlements as pale as the first snows of winter, the wind fluttering the hem of his cloak and lifting his dark hair from his brow.
His breath caught in his throat; almost he choked on that strange dust. Almost he was blinded by that candlelight, shocked to silence by the weight of time falling upon him.
The Elf reached up and laid a hand upon the weather-worn wood of the cart. "It is enough that once we were there."
He blinked, startled to find the day bright and fair about him, the land warm and green as only this land ever had been. Dazed, his hands tightened on the reins and the oxen slackened their pace, lowing irritably. He stared at the wooden yoke about their necks, but he did not see it, for he felt once more between his hands the sword that once he had borne, knew once again the shackles that had bound his wrists. He rubbed the fresh, unblemished skin nervously, almost surprised to find that no scars marred the flesh of new life.
The stranger's eyes gleamed suddenly bright, and the lowering sun cast scarlet alloys in his pitch-dark hair. His hand was that of a bard, the fingers fine and slender. "It is enough that once we were there."
He stood stock-still, his golden hair cast about his shoulders like a veil. The dappled sunlight fell upon his face, casting shadows in the depths of his eyes. His slim fingers flexed and coiled upon the neck of the lute he had been handling. 'Twas a sweet instrument, its tone pure and clear, neck and body inlaid with delicately scrolling pear wood, but he found he had no eye for it now. Almost he would have dropped it, if his wife had not taken it from him, her own hands trembling, her eyes wide with shock.
The stranger stood full in the light of the westering sun not five paces away, his head tipped to one side, his face intent as if he were listening to some call no other could hear. A hood lay slack about his shoulders. Although dust clung to the hem of his cloak, no trace of it seemed to adhere to his sharply delineated features, as clear and pale as starlight, lit with the wondering radiance of those but newly returned from the Halls of Mandos. It was a radiance that the Elf knew well, for he had seen it in too many faces, the faces of those slain in fearful combat in the wars of Middle-earth, his own not the least.
But those features - those he could not mistake, would not have mistaken, even were it not for the descriptions given by those but lately arrived from the Hither Lands, their voices low with awe and sorrow. 'Twas a note he had heard in those who spoke his own tale, and there he had disliked it greatly, for it seemed strange payment for deeds of rash folly, even those wisely ended. But here…
Aye, 'twas a face he was not like to forget, for its likenesses had been much in his life.
No holy light fell from this brow, but so alike was it to that of the Mariner of the heavens, the strong cast of those features, the mouth given to rare, sweet smiles, that the kinship could not be denied. The tall, lean frame that owed as much to the Fathers of Men as to the royal line of the House of Finwë, the set of the shoulders, resolute in joy and sorrow alike. Nay, none could deny that. And yet there was something else - a delicacy of face, mayhap, a light in the eyes, the play of the afternoon sunlight on that dark hair that recalled to his mind another face upon another form, an Elven maiden he had know so long ago, when the world was young.
"Aye, 'tis as she said," he spoke as if to himself. "My sister-daughter spoke the veriest truth: he is as like to Lúthien as may be given male form beneath this latter sun, and yet he is his father's son."
But even as he spoke, his words jolted him abruptly from the reverie of ancient times and lost days into which he had sunk. While wonder caught him, there was another who would greet this day with greater joy by far than he could muster. He met his wife's eyes wordlessly, and she took his hand, holding it tightly, smoothing the gold band that encircled his forefinger. "Come, Finrod. Yonder friend has need of a hand to guide him."
"Aye." He bussed her forehead lightly, brushing the golden hair back with one tremulous hand. "It is strange when seeming ghosts take form before my very eyes."
She grimaced, and he smiled ruefully. "I had no warning when you returned from Mandos, love," she reminded him.
"O Valar! What shall we say to Celebrían?"
Amarië winced. "Is there aught we can say to make this shock the less?"
He felt the first twinges of terror as Elven lord and maiden hurried him through the streets of Tirion upon Túna. The low-angled sun seemed hot on his shoulders, but it did not warm his skin, and a cold fist clenched in the pit of his stomach. It would not be easy, this. Long had he been secure in her love - but her forgiveness? Aye, that was a different matter. The Maiar of Estë who had tended him in the gardens of Lórellin had told him that four and fifty years had faded into darkness since his life had fled upon the Field of Cormallen, and that was long enough for any to brood upon the wrongs done them, the losses suffered, the grief endured.
And yet he loved her still, his mind an unquiet thing without the silver surety of her presence. Dimly he could feel her, fumblingly he sought her presence, but it was not that strength of wonder that once he had known. I come, Celebrían. Will you receive me? But there was no answer, and he let Lord Finrod and the Lady Amarië draw him onwards, pausing only to veil his face with the shadows of his hood once more.
Celebrían glanced up from the book that lay in her lap as a door slammed loudly somewhere in the house. The unwonted noise pierced the subtle calm of Tirion and awoke her from the half-drowse in which she had drifted. Of late, she had found that true sleep did not come easy to her, nor did the smiles of strangers offer much comfort to guard against the chill that gnawed at her as she lay awake at night. And yet the days seemed to pass as if in a dream, and oft some other would rouse her, and she would find herself sitting thus, her task all but forgotten, her mind a maze of wispy thoughts that would not succumb to the chiding will.
Brushing her muslin skirts down with one hand, she set the book aside, and rose, stretching slowly. Before she could make any other move, her uncle was before her. The look on his face stilled her in a moment. The gentle, open candour of his countenance was dulled, as if barred with great shutters of iron. His mouth was drawn into a tight line, his skin ashen-fair and flushed. "Niece…" He clasped her shoulders lightly. Only as he did so did she realise that she had been shaking her head frantically, trembling with fear.
"Naneth?" The single word was an agony. Still her parents had not taken ship from Middle-earth, and still with every dawn she awaited news of the barque that would bear them hither across the wide wastes of ocean. "Adar?"
"Nay." Finrod shook his head, smiling slightly. "There is no new news of them, although I pray it shall not be long ere your mother walks the wharves of Alqualondë once more."
"What then can it be to so disturb you?" She grasped his hands, drawing them away from herself. "Uncle, what is the news you bring?"
He stared at her for a long moment, his eyes strangely distant, and then he laughed oddly, dropping his head as if in a token of surrender. "I had thought that I might have words to soften this, but I find myself bereft of them. There are no words for this, but I wish you joy, Celebrían, daughter to my only sister."
And he was gone before she had the breath to question him. In his place, as if wrought from the shadows that crowded thickly about the hall, stood one garbed in black, the hood drawn up to cast his face into shade. His shoulders were broad beneath the soft cloth, and yet he seemed diffident, as one uncertain of his skill in battle facing a greater foe.
And then he raised his hands to his hood, and she knew, even ere she saw his face. Bare of the wedding band she had gifted to him and the Ring he had borne for so long, still she knew his hands, elegant, long-fingered, strong in war and kind in peace.
And then he lowered his hood, the fabric shivering with his fear, and she saw his face. That most beloved countenance showed neither sign nor scar of the long suffering of those last months in Middle-earth, as gentle with unmarred wisdom as ever she had known it. It was enough.
She stepped forward, all thought fled away, and wrapped him tightly in her arms. He stiffened, his eyes wide and wild with shock, staring down at her as if she were quite mad. And then, abruptly, the tension went from him, the last fear draining from his face, and he merely held her. If she wept tears then, she did not later remember them, nor count them of much significance. They had long dried on his tunic ere he released her, and they had much to speak of, and much to contemplate in the silences between words and in the calm quiet of thoughts shared.
For a long while they stood thus, ebon and silver as the last light faded from the sky, and while they did not shirk their sorrow, there was much joy betwixt them.
"Five hundred and sixty-four years since last I held you thus," he murmured wonderingly, his lips pressed to the silken hair at the crown of her head.
"We have been too long apart, hervenn-nîn. I would not have it so again."
"Nor would I."
"I…Oh!" She broke off, whatever she might have been about to say forgotten. She grasped his hand and ushered him through the house, ignoring his enquiries, a small smile playing about her lips. The chamber they reached at last was hers. Great doors, as tall as the tallest of the Elves, stood open on the night, and through them they could hear, far off, the soft sounds of the city. A bed, neatly made, occupied one corner. Elrond was bemused to find himself blushing scarlet as Celebrían's eyes touched first upon it and then upon him.
She smiled briefly, and turned away to kneel beside the low cabinet that hunkered alongside it. He watched her, his unwitting protest stilled in his throat by curiosity. It did not take her long to find that which she sought. She folded it in one hand, and with the other drew him down until their faces were level. His cloak, hanging forgotten from his shoulders pooled around them, and her knees were warm against his. He glanced at her, unnerved by her presence after so long apart, even as he revelled in it. She smiled again, and unfurled her fist. Two objects lay there, but she did not give him chance to see the second, for the first was the band of gold she had given unto him upon their marriage day. Worn by time, chipped by tricks of fate and circumstance and small elflings, there it was, as if he had never fallen into death upon the cool earth of the Outer Lands.
She leant in and pressed her lips to his, clasping his hand between her own, and slipped the ring onto his forefinger. The metal chilled his skin, but he did not mind. Drawing away reluctantly, he looked down at the gold glimmering against his skin, and he smiled, his grey eyes sweet and merry. No shadow showed in their depths, only the distant glory of starlight reflected upon the wide waters.
"This is indeed a token of which I am glad." He tilted her chin upwards, his own eyes glinting darkly in response to the invitation in hers, and bent his head for a kiss. With a smile, she drew back, and opened her hand again. Now, he saw what lay there: Vilya, his burden and his trust for so many years. No potency illumined its depths now, but still the great stone shone with luminous brightness, and almost he feared to put out his hand to it.
"Our son is here, Elrond, although he is not now within the city bounds, nor do Iknow whence his wanderings have brought him. 'Twas he who gave to me the rings and such items as had seen saved from Imladris."
Brief pain twisted his face, and his eyes were sorrowing. "I shall be glad indeed to see him once more."
And, before memory could become more than even Elven substance could endure, he took Vilya lightly from her palm. It seemed smaller, somehow, than he remembered, its presence no longer a shadow of wonder and dread about him. He laughed, turning it over and over in his hand, light and dark, light and dark.
Celebrían watched him, as he gazed upon the Ring of Air. The scent which clung to him was of fresh hay, and the musty sweetness of autumn, of ripening apples and the dying year, shot through with the spicy sweetness which had ever been his. His eyes were as grey and as bright as starlight, depthless as a highland mere at twilight, and she loved him, although it cut her to the heart. Light and dark, dark and light the ring flashed, and where the blue glints of the great stone fell, the room seemed bright with the hope of summer lost and the promise of another year. He flicked it up in the air, as careless as if it had been a child's trinket, and snatched it from its spinning coils with the speed of starlight. Light and dark it fell, glimmering with the wondrous danger of his eyes, and he threw back his head, his hair as the depths of night about him, and he laughed again, and the sorrow in his eyes was dimmed.
"The Rings have passed away and the Age of Men has begun, but I do not now fear as once I did, and of that I am glad. Vairë has not yet set her last stitch in the storied tapestries of time and the winding thread of memory is not yet snapped. There is time enough for the Music of Eä, and for you and I to wander a while in the gardens, and of that I am glad."
They did not grace the gardens that eventide, although their laughter awakened the starlings asleep in the trees, fading languidly into the starlit night of the great and wondrous city of Tirion upon Túna.
Beyond the seas, that same night fell warm and silent about the Elf-barrow that looked out upon the Ancient West from the hill above the falls of Henneth Annûn.
Calacirya - the Pass of Light.
hervenn-nîn - my husband.
Fírimar - Mortals, an Elvish name for Men.
Thank you all very much for reading this far. The story's taken a long time to tell but I've enjoyed the telling.
Losseniaiel. 16th December 2004.